Business models in international education: what is possible? How local is education in your view?

 

distance_education

In No education crisis wasted: On Bridge’s “business model in Africa (July 13, 2017), Hengeveld criticizes the way Bridge International Academies (Bridge) organizes their educational model in countries like Kenya (2009), Uganda (2014), Nigeria (2015), Liberia (2016) and India (2017). At their own website, they describe their Academy-in-a-Box: We re-engineered every part of the education system, from teacher training and support, to lesson delivery, construction and financial administration, as well as pupil and teacher feedback to monitor progress, to make it as efficient, effective – and very affordable for the communities we serve….The global education crisis means that it’s essential our education model is sustainable and scalable, that’s why we aren’t an NGO. The model includes 24/7 support of the teachers; following the national curriculum of the countries, incorporating the local context and standards, collaborate with local education ministries; personalized instructions using Wi-Fi handhelds, recording student data, freeing teachers to concentrate on teaching instead of administrative functions; streamlining managerial tasks, freeing managers to concentrate on teachers, families and communities.

According to a report of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GIESCR),  Bridge uses “school in a box” model, employing a highly-standardized approach to education. At BIA, every school looks the same, the material used is the same in each classroom, and most importantly, the lessons are the same across all the academies of the same country. BIA uses a system of scripted lessons, and its teachers – who are mostly secondary school leavers without formal teaching qualifications – receive lesson plans on an e-tablet, which they have to follow word by word”. This report criticizes Bridge for several reasons. Firstly, they show that the tuition fees are such that poorer students cannot participate. Secondly, they dispute the compliance with local legal and educational standards. The report points towards research in Kenya(*), that “the majority of BIA students are taught by unqualifed, overworked, teachers using teaching scripts (developed in the US) read from tablets. The school infrastructure is basic and viewed by many as inadequate. [..]. Regular payments are strictly enforced and students who are behind with payments are excluded from the classroom. Both GIESCR and Hengeveld argue that public investors, as the Dutch government and the World Bank should reconsider their contributions.

Whether Bridge International Academies does violate national legal educational and labor regulations is something which I cannot determinate.  The arguments in the contra-Bridge rapports are convincing, but Bridge of course deny the observations mentioned above.

A different question is whether the business model of Bridge is viable altogether. Taking the strategic paradox De Wit and Meyer (2014**) on internationalization of organizations, they distinguish two perspectives, the global convergence perspective and the international diversity perspective. The first builds on international centralization of management, economies of scale in purchasing policies and sales, increasing efficiency. The second perspective accepts that there are fundamental differences between local markets, customers and governments.

Education is a sector which is certainly characterized by international administrative and legal diversity. So each organization which wants to operate on a global scale should take account of the local rules and regulations with respect to curricula, but also to privacy legislation and labor market regulations. react severely when –in their experiences- an organization disrespects or even violates these national laws. Especially when the organization offers formal degrees, local accreditation is essential for recognition.

Another question is how general is ‘education’. Is it possible to develop educational materials for the teachers or even for the students which can be used globally? To profit from the economies of scale, there has to be some synergy between either resources (reallocation, specialization), activities (pooling, specialization or competitive local advantages) and in the product offering (standardization, cross-border competition). For example, by designing an international oriented MOOC, the assumption is that the didactical methods are internationally usable. Whether it is an American textbook on sociology, a MOOC on global pollution or a distance course on chemistry, the designers/authors use a didactical method, specific examples and language. What makes some materials broader usable than others; what makes authors think that their materials are internationally usable? For example, starting European students of economics in the 80’s knew more about the American Federal Reserve than of the monetary systems of other European countries.

Bridge, but also MOOCs and OER implicitly assume that educational materials are broader adaptable than the development environment. Bridge even states that the material they make available through their tablets can be supplemented by the advice of central organized experts. Of course, the materials made available by Bridge are their own resources. MOOCs are available under creative common copyrights, but are often not adjustable, taking the form of a static text book for use in other environments. Only OER available under the most flexible creatives commons are adjustable and reusable by third parties (teachers). Yet, adjusting these resources, translating them in other languages, subtitling and adding local examples will be a lot of work. If the critique on Bridge’s central approach is right and local education is more effective with local teaching, this also removes the arguments of the possibility to provide less costly education, available for all social classes and incomes. If Bridge’s education isn’t more effective, more accessible and of a higher quality than the local teachings, the business model of this kind of education disappears.

But if the central globalization approach doesn’t work for Bridge, will MOOCs and OER be usable outside of the developers’ environment. Three of the shortcomings of MOOCs as listed on the website Online Course Report (OCR, 2016) are the teaching methods, the way content is presented and their Anglo-Saxon orientation. And these are listed as general limitations, not specifically because of local methodology.

I would like the opinion of teachers among my readers, How local is education in your view?

* Bridge versus Reality: A study of Bridge International Academies’ for profit schooling in Kenya; Report, Education International/Kenya National Union of Teachers, December 2016

** De Wit, B., & Meyer, R. (2014). Strategy synthesis: Resolving strategy paradoxes to create competitive advantage. Cengage Learning EMEA.

 

 

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Opening up: Open Innovation in a closed market?

When Paul Prinsloo asked me if Chesbrough’s funnel could be open on both sides, the economist in me cried NoNoNo!

This initial reaction is caused by schooling in traditional economic thinking. The concise version of this reasoning is as follows. Firms have to invest funds in research and development. Only 20% of the projects started will survive towards the stage of commercialization, where another part will be lost in the implementation stage. This means that, once the final product or service is on the market, the profits have to be large enough to compensate the firm for all initial investments, including failures and restarts. To generate profits of this size, the firm has to have some kind of monopoly power for a given period. This can be guaranteed through some specific competences, materials but mostly through property rights and patents.

The theory tells us that in a world without protection, the firm which makes the initial costs will not earn enough before its competitors enter the market with imitations or even improvement on the initial innovation. Innovative firms will go bankrupt, so there will be too little or even no innovation in this world.

Open innovation still depends on property rights, but it changes the situation in the sense that inventions, patents and innovations are bought and sold. Firms search externally for usable patents and supply their inventions and patents to the market if they deviate to much of the existing business model. Chesbrough assumes that through this mechanism costs will decrease and efficiency will increase as more research is used in innovations and failures will only influence the innovating firm (how these costs are influence the collective wealth is unclear in his model).

So open innovation is about increasing cooperation, but within a market setting. However, cooperation will lead to shared experiences and this can result in shared values, creating more business opportunities.

Collaboration is also necessary because on the output side of the model things are changing. Firstly, there is the influence of ict. For a lot of business, their main function was to select and stock products, produced by others. For example publishers (both of music and books), who selected the writers and bands of good quality, took care of the distribution of their work and made a living by selling these products. In essence, this is the same for super markets, which decide which goods to offer to the consumers, choosing from a large range of alternatives.

 

However, as Chris Anderson described in The Long Tail, in a web based society producers can place their products on websites, whether self published books, music or specialized goods which were normally not chosen by large risk adverse companies. Although some authors, composers, bands and small producers will act purely on their own, others search for collaboration to share sales channels; using each other traffic on the website to generate trade for themselves, see for example the Strange New Products website or Weird Music.Web.

Secondly, the tendency towards co-creation. Accepting the fact that value is created in the use of products, not in the sales transaction, the buyer plays a major role in realizing the full value of a product or a service. To give a consumer the freedom, to adapt the product or service to his or her own wishes, collaboration with other firms is almost unavoidable.

Taking those two tendencies together, the market side of firms is opening up, requiring the input side to open up. Open innovation makes co-creation and specialization possible, but market developments in their turn push collaboration (and by that open innovation): opening up one side of the process will cause the other side to open up too.

Berkeleyan, Hulda Nelson imageOpenness means different things in different fields. Open in the sense of open source means free. Open access in the sense of the British government means that the producer (author) pays for the deliverance of his product, open in open education can mean without start qualifications or gratis. Open innovation means that the research outputs are shared over the borders of the firm, caused by or stimulating co-creation on the output side of the firm; increasing access to knowledge and innovation without fundamentally changing property rights.

Another difference is that –despite the fact that all behaviour is free- the openness in innovation and co-creation is enforced by the market forces, whereas openness in software and education mostly is voluntary. Perhaps a nice subject for another blog?

Is strategy back?

You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.

Attributed to Leon Trotsky

Strategy in real life has never been far away, however in academics it seemed to be a period in time that strategic thinking was out of fashion. Or as a former dean of our faculty said: Strategy is about everything, so it has to say something about everything. Strategy became an adjective, in the sense of strategic human resources, strategic management or strategic operational decision-making. Since the introduction of the business model, the business canvas and open innovation, strategy has again become a serious topic. Comparing the different approaches in strategy, you can see a common point. All modern approaches put the customer central, moving to a more service oriented theory of the customer (the so-called Service Dominant Logic). On the input side of the business model, there is a certain distinction between approaches. For example, the Osterwalder canvas lists cooperation as one of the fields of importance in determining your business model; the Prahalad approach and Open Innovation of Chesbrough and van Haverbeke are even more explicit in setting cooperation as one of the essential competences to develop unique competitive advantages. As Prahalad put it in “The Age of Innovation”, it is not ownership of resources, but access to resources even if they are owned by other firms.

In another context I have shown that this is the reason why open innovation is counted as part of the so-called Open Movement. The Open Movement consists of Open Source, the development and implementation of free software by a massive group of volunteers; Open Access, the movement against expensive publishers and for opening up all kind of resources; Open Education, a mix of different kind of educational resources for teachers and learners, total free courses and programs provided by volunteers but also by top universities and Open Innovation, the realization that collaboration of firms is necessary if innovation has to be successful in the present complex world. These initiatives range from a completely free towards a copyright protected exchange of ideas. As Open Business Models are a part of the Open Movement, the success of open activities requires new business models. For example, it is now possible to use your computer with a free Linux Operating System, using FreeOffice, (replacing Microsoft Office) and other kinds of free software, including web development software as Moodle. This calls for new business models on the part of commercial software: what are the features people are prepared to pay money for, as there is a free alternative? Open Access caused a major discussion between the UK government, academics and the publishers. .The UK government has taken the decision that work, paid for by the British taxpayer will be free available online for universities, companies and individuals, to use for any purpose, wherever they are in the world (The Guardian, 15 July 2012 ). To make this possible, the government changes the business model of scientific publishers from being paid by the subscribers of their journals to making the authors pay an ‘Article Processing Charge’ (APC) around £2,000 per article. This APC is financed by the research funds of universities and research institutions (the so-called Golden approach, commission Finch; contrasting the Green approach). Open Access will change the business models in publishing, but possible also in other artistic business as movies, music ect. Open Education is about individuals and organizations offering different kinds of education and educational resources. Sometimes for free, sometimes for a small fee. New technological developments allow a larger access, a broader participation in education. Partly this will make good education available in places where it was not available before, Secondly; it sets the standard for other teachers as students can compare the free course with the courses at their university. However, it can also influence the business model of traditional and distance teaching universities. What do these institutions offer to make up for the fees as compared to the free courses? Of course, Open Innovation is less about getting things for free but more about the must to cooperate, opening up a traditional very closed activity. Surely, research and development departments were heavily guarded places, whereas now, openness and interaction are propagated in by the open innovation and open business model approaches, Yet, there are still approaches which stress the importance of the closed enterprise. For example the blue ocean – red ocean approach of Kim and Mauborgne assumes that the firm has to move towards a position of relative loneliness, to survive. In these approaches strategic decisions have to do with the distinction between the firm and its competitors. If the resources you use are available for everyone, there is no distinguishing competitive advantage!

The more co-creation and non-price factors determine the competitive position of an organization, the more important collaboration with other firms. The more price competition determines the success and survival of the organization, the more important specific individual competences become. Strategy is about recognizing your own position in relation with the outside world, the industrial relationships, the customers, competitors and others. Copying the behavior of others will not lead to an unique position, collaboration can result in a competitive advantage when combined with special internal competences. The same applies for the motto attributed to Leon Trotsky at the beginning of this blog. Searching the internet, this quote can be found at hundreds of websites. However, at the more serious websites pointing towards publications in which the quotes can be found, this quote is not found; the only quote looking like it is: “You may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in you”.

Copying the “free content” provided at many websites might not always be the best policy to get the best results 😎